Page to Screen: After (2019) Based on the Novel of the Same Name by Anna Todd

10:10 PM

The controversial Wattpad story has now come to life on the big screen. 
Despite what Refinery29 tells you in this otherwise good article, and how so many places are trying to market the film: After is NOT YA. It is NA. 

You've probably seen my experience with this novel play out in either real time or in my revisit in February for 5 and 5. The only novel in the series that I rated moderately highly was Before and my feelings for this series range from rage to indifference.

At the same time, it's one of those series I feel is a train wreck you cannot look away from.

I had no intentions of seeing After in theaters, if I'm being honest. Both because I cannot afford it right now and because it just doesn't appeal to me. However, my friend requested we see it for her birthday and we got in for free because of some rewards she had sitting around.

After is actually one of her favourite books and really, how could anyone say no to seeing a good friend happy and watching as they experience what they care about come to life? Besides, it's a tradition for us to see book adaptations, even if one of us isn't keen on the books.

That being said, After actually surprised me on screen. It wasn't the same story the books portrayed. It is by no means groundbreaking but at least it didn't make me flinch, cringe and want to shake each of the characters every two seconds. It's very, very different than the After we see on page.

That's the first thing you should know about the movie. It's not the same After. Which will likely have a mix of opinions at the end of the day, but for me, it was a good thing. They cleaned up a lot of the more questionable moments of the novel, including the central bet.

Yay, for no bloody sheets and murderous attitudes/abusive qualities.

The basics are all there; it's just more or less a clean-up. I remember seeing ages ago that the Hardin Scott in the film would be a lot less aggressive and not nearly as mean as he is in the books and this is true.

I vaguely recall that Anna Todd actually regrets/questions a lot of how she handled the series to begin with, too, so I think a lot of the changes to him in particular were at her request.

Hardin's much needed personality facelift leads to a softer tone that is much more friendly and warm (although, I wouldn't call him warm) than in the books. He's still broody and rough around the edges, but at least in the film we can slightly see how Hardin has friends and snags someone like Tessa.

He's not verbally abusive in this take, but still has a stereotypical "bad boy with some darkness" trait that leads into the opposites attract trope that Anna Todd captured in her stories. At his core, he's still the same archetype, just less hateful and cruel.

I feel like the film is almost a redemption for the books. I'd definitely give it a solid two or three stars in terms of improving upon its source and making for an entertaining film. I thought the pacing was a little weird and choppy, but, for the most part, I actually enjoyed the film? At least, more than I did the book.

My companion, meanwhile, merely liked the film. She had a lot to say about the pacing and what was missing, and where the story went. Her biggest question was: how did a novel series about sexual awakening become a PG-13 film, with very little sex?

As for me, I found myself asking the same question for different reasons. My friend, of course, just wanted it to stay true to its source material. Which, I think, any book lover can relate to. We've all had books adapted that left us feeling underwhelmed or frustrated. After was that for her. 
She was a little shell-shocked after watching, noting that she appreciated a few of the changes and creative liberties they took with After. Such as how the bet and its aftermath changed, Tristan becoming a girl and the personality upgrade for Hardin.
Her main complaint was not in the changes that were drastically needed to Hardin's treatment of Tessa--she loved that they cut out the emotionally abusive aspects of his character and the like--but because they turned an erotic new-adult romance into something of a generic teen flick. 
It goes without saying that NA should stay NA.
That being said, taming After is a mixed bag. Less sex, means less Hessa "passion" and that translates oddly on screen. As does a lot of other plotlines. In-fact, because the novels are so sexually driven, it takes a good 75% of the plotlines away. 
However, this makes room for some cuter scenes. It also makes for a sloppier on screen translation that is quick and confusing, unfortunately. There's a lot more telling and not showing in the film when compared to the books--which is rather shocking, considering the books did too much of that on their own. 
Shaving down the rating for After down was probably a mistake in the long run. 
Namely because it isolates the books audience a bit more and will give those who've only seen the film a bit of a shock if they pick up After. In all honesty, it frightens me knowing that the rating of the film is lower because that means a new batch of young girls are going to see the movie and think, oh, I have to read the book, and then start another pattern of romanticizing the books steamier and more abusive traits. 

There's nothing wrong with enjoying steamy/smutty books, but it becomes a problem when young and impressionable readers read the abusive additions to After and think, hey, this is epic love and I want a Hardin Scott of my own.

After, on page, strives to be Fifty Shades of Grey
But, on screen?
It's nothing more than a Twilight knock-off with a little sex and less sparkle, literally and figuratively. After is better than the source material it's based on, but nothing more than fluffy entertainment with a dull edge. I think that fans of the book will be let down by the path they take the film, but it will be less painful to sit through for those who didn't like the books.

The Good: 

  • Less abusive, creepiness and the bet is less disgusting. That's always a massive plus. It's one of the main changes that makes the film better than the books. 
  • Minor characters being adjusted. Two of Hardin's friends from the books don't make it into the film but it really doesn't make a difference. Steph's boyfriend in the books, Tristan, becomes a girlfriend in the film. Carol isn't as blatantly overbearing to her daughter and the dynamic is better for it. 
  • A lot of characters are polished up a bit and less mean. This is great because, again, it makes it far superior to its source material. Literally everyone in the books are unlikable. The film just makes them a bit more subtly awful and more just immature university students.
  • Josephine Langford is charming as hell. Oh, and, Inanna Sarkis, Pia Mia and Khadijha Red Thunder also are great on screen. 
  • The Lake Scene is infamous in the fandom, apparently, and in the movie it's not explicit. I liked in the film that Hardin was in no hurry to rush Tessa into something. It was an oddly sweet change.
  • While the movie is mostly weak, I thought that some of the stronger scenes were Langford's portrayal of Tessa discovering the bet and the end scene in which she makes amends with her mother and her ex-boyfriend. 
  • Selma Blair. I mean, sure, Carol is insufferable in the books (like everyone else, let's face it) but it's always good to see her on screen. I wish there had been more of her. I think that she and Langford play well off each other and there's definitely a lot of potential to build on that mother and daughter dynamic, if there is a sequel film.
  • Landon and Tessa's friendship, even if it's only brief and quite underdeveloped. I still think their friendship is sweet. 
  • I liked the scene with Tessa, Steph and Jace. I kind of feel like if they make a sequel, they're still going to demonize Steph a bit but not as bad as the books. I think they're watering down the characters so that they're not as hateful as the books which I appreciate. This includes Jace and Molly, too. I think that by developing Steph a little differently in the film, and showing a more warm side to her, means that they'll redeem her if there's a second film. 
  • Aesthetically speaking, it's a pretty film. 
  • The apartment. In After, this was just another way to control Tessa and keep her isolated from the knowledge of the bet. The film takes the apartment plotline in a different way and it serves the ~romantic plot~ far better. 
  • A lot of the changes in Hardin give Tessa a bit more agency in the adaptation. Which is great. 
  • Tessa, too, is a bit more outspoken and assertive in the film. She seems less judgmental too but that may just be because (a) book Tessa is really judgmental and anything else pales compared to that or (b) we don't hear much of her inner dialogue. 
  • Having Tessa's major be a plot point. I think it adds a little something more to what makes Tessa, in the film, Tessa. I don't necessarily think any of the characters are fleshed out much, but the film did develop her a bit more than book one. 
  • They aren't rushing into the Vance internship plotline.

The Bad:

  • The script was super cringy. A different brand of cringy than the books. A lot of the dialogue had me going ????????? at the screen. I will say that the cast works with what they're given and it is what it is. 
  • Hardin is written to be softer and less cruel, as I've said, but the way they did write him was dry and completely flat. I feel like he was so, so lifeless. While it's definitely better than mean and abusive, it's still not... great. I don't necessarily think this is Hero Fiennes-Tiffin's fault. He is only acting what was given to him, you know? 
  • The fact that they wasted Peter Gallagher and Jennifer Beals. 
  • Felt like the movie was all over the place, underdeveloped and patchy. You can definitely tell they cut out a lot. And that there's some missing scenes from the original cut of the film. If you thought the books felt rushed, the film actually outdoes its source material. There's literally no development in Hardin and Tessa's relationship before suddenly they're glued to each other in one way or another.
  • Tying into the previous note, the film is a little incoherent and disjointed by the time it's finished.
The Dirty: 

  • Just kidding, there's hardly anything dirty about this when compared to the books.  
Overall, I think I'd give this movie a C- rating or somewhere between 2.8-3.5 stars out of 5. Which is a definite improvement when compared to the books.

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